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Appellate Court Clarifies Correct Interpretation of Amendments to Arizona Law, Denying Defendant’s Appeal in the Process

In a recent case before an appellate court in Arizona, the defendant asked the court to interpret a 2022 amendment to Arizona law in a way that would favor overturning his guilty verdict. Originally, the defendant was charged with and found guilty of first-degree murder. After receiving his guilty verdict, the defendant appealed, arguing that the higher court should closely critique the trial court’s decision to allow a certain jury member to serve on the case. Looking at the 2022 amendment regarding jury selection as well as the facts of this case, the higher court denied the defendant’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant went to trial on charges after he allegedly murdered his girlfriend. Before trial, both the prosecution and the defense proceeded with questioning potential jury members. The defense attorney objected to one juror in particular, who had close connections in her personal life to the kind of case that was on trial. The trial court, however, allowed the juror to serve, and the trial went forward.

The defendant was found guilty, and he promptly appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant referenced a 2022 amendment to Arizona criminal rules of procedure, which relates to how a trial court assesses a potential juror’s ability to serve on a case. According to the defendant, these rules suggest that the higher court should heavily critique whether the trial court judge was able to credibly look at a potential juror’s ability to be objective.

Looking at the amendment, however, the appellate court determined that the 2022 amendment actually suggests that the higher court should trust the trial judge’s discretion when reviewing his or her decisions regarding jury selection. The trial judge interacts with each possible jury member and has an opportunity to personally assess that person’s credibility, while the higher court only has a record of what happened during trial. Therefore, said the higher court, the trial judge is in a far better position to make decisions about jury selection.

Because the trial judge was able to properly assess whether the possible juror in the defendant’s case was able to serve, the court had no business overturning its decision. With that in mind, the court communicated to other Arizona courts that when reviewing jury selection, appellate courts should primarily defer to the trial judge’s decision-making ability. There was no language in the 2022 amendments that suggested otherwise.

With that in mind, the court denied the defendant’s appeal.

Have You Been Criminally Charged in the State of Arizona?

At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we understand how daunting it can feel to face criminal charges in Arizona, whether it’s for minor charges like drug possession or a serious felony like murder. We have dedicated our careers to fighting against criminal charges, and we would be honored to take on your case and begin fighting for you. For a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 480-413-1499. You can also fill out our online form to tell us about your case.


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